Impromptu shouts of "nothing about us without us" and "get us out, keep us out, don't put us in" echoed through cool, rainy, Atlanta streets on Feb. 16 as advocates, family members and supporters of people with disabilities filled the grounds of the state capitol for the 14th Annual Disability Day Rally, sponsored by the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (www.gcdd.org).
Gov. Nathan Deal and the top executive for AAPD addressed a record crowd of over 2,000 citizens from across the state. Deal pledged continued support to people with developmental disabilities in Georgia.
"Our team is hard at work to expand resources including: waivers to move individuals with developmental disabilities out of our hospitals, waivers to care for individuals with developmental disabilities currently living in the community, and increased family supports," Deal said. "We are strengthening our networks of crisis care with mobile crisis teams and crisis respite homes. We want to provide immediate, effective crisis care and these tools provide our state with a safety net to back up high-quality, person-centered care."
Mark Perriello, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and former White House liaison at the U.S. Department of the Interior, encouraged people with disabilities to find new ways of organizing in order to build strong institutions, and to learn how to be more effective in the corridors of power.
Referring to the more than 54 million Americans who have some type of disability, he said, "We are the largest minority group in the country and we should be the most powerful...we need to get all of you to the polls." "We have the power to transform the debate." Perriello, visually impaired since childhood, called upon the disability community to pay close attention to critical policy issues, meet with their elected representatives, and "take your seat at the table" by getting into decision-making positions and running for office themselves.
He intermittently led the crowd to chant the motto of the Independent Living Movement, "nothing about us without us."
The historic 1999 Olmstead Decision originated in Georgia, which makes the state a focal point for disability rights. "My Life is FOR REAL!", the theme for this year's Rally, underscored the need to focus on individual supports and community-based services to get people with disabilities out of institutions and into the community. GCDD's "Real Communities" Initiative is one such innovation for community building.
"Real Communities" creates opportunities in which persons with developmental disabilities can participate more fully in every aspect of life, often by tapping into existing activities and joining with others to make life better for everyone. The urgency to develop these community supports will increase as the population ages and as people with disabilities realize their right to live in the community rather than reside in institutions.
This right is mandated by the Olmstead Decision and reinforced by the October 2010 Department of Justice settlement with Georgia.
At last week's rally, students from Flowery Branch High School in Hall County - Nick Dyson, Lyndzi Vaughn, and J.J. Martinez - introduced Deal. More than 650 students from across Georgia attended Disability Day at the Capitol to lend their voices and collect signatures on the Children's Freedom Initiative declar ation.
Legislators in attendance included Rep. Sharon Beasley-Teague (D-Dist 65), Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Dist 26), and Sen. John Albers (R-Dist 56). People came in ones and twos as well as in groups of over 300 from across Georgia.
The rally, hosted by GCDD Executive Director Eric E. Jacobson and Chair Tom Seegmueller, was an opportunity to bestow awards as well as acknowledge fallen heroes. Dr. Gerald Durley, recognized civil rights leader and pastor of the historic Providence Missionary Baptist Church of Atlanta where he works to ensure people with disabilities in the congregation are able to share their gifts, skills and abilities, honored 48 Fallen Soldiers who passed in the last year.
Margo Waters, disABILITY LINK Independent Living Coordinator, received the Georgia Outstanding Self-Advocate of the Year Award - In Loving Memory of Natalie Norwood Tumlin. Joseph D. Frazier, Chairperson, Metro Fair Housing Services, Inc., received the Samuel Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award.
Disability Day at the Capitol is made possible by a host of partnering organizations and volunteers from the disability community. For a list, visit www.GCDD.org.
Among GCDD's list of public policy priorities are:
· the Unlock The Waiting Lists! Campaign calling for funding of community based services for over 6,000 persons on waiting lists for vital supports
· Transportation Investment Act Referendum
· Children's Freedom Initiative
· Proposals to help people receive the supports they need to live and thrive in the community.
GCDD, a federally funded independent state agency, works to bring about social and policy changes that promote opportunities for persons with developmental disabilities and their families to live, learn, work, play and worship in Georgia communities. A developmental disability is a chronic mental and/or physical disability that occurs before age 22 and is expected to last a lifetime.
Visit www.gcdd.org for more information.